Queue Me Up

 

Queues are fun. The thick, rowdy ones are my favorite. The long, snaky ones come a close second. Seriously, what about the ones, which stall for no apparent reason? You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you? You poor thing! Queues are like totally to-die-for. So much activity…so little time. I mean, where do I begin?

There’s this lot of persons that suddenly get cataracts at the queue. How else would you explain the ease with which they navigate all the aisles, and then miss the end of the queue? It’s right there SIR! See the cute girl picking her nose? That’s where the queue ends…or you know…begins in your case. You hadn’t seen it? What, you thought all these people were just waiting for the elephants?

Speaking of elephants…quite a few giganomous ones in my line of vision. Not to brag or anything, but my eyes fall just short of those 360s chameleons are so famous for. How else would you explain my total awareness of the guy in the checked shirt standing too close to my derriere? It’s a queue. I get it! We are supposed to stand behind each other. Don’t take it so seriously, man. Behind me does not mean against my behind! And please relax. This is not a game of tag. You do not have to move forward every time I do. We are not connected, you and I. I mean, we kind of are. What with our nether regions being so close together. So how about this? Not so close. Say it with me. Not. So. Close. OK. Good talk. I’m going to take a step now. Got it? One…two…Damn it!

“Do you use condoms?”

“Huh?”

See what I mean about queues? What does it matter that we’re all strangers? We’re going to be here a while, why not get up close? It is not enough that the guy behind me is you know…BEHIND me. I have to answer personal questions too? Listen, I don’t care that you’re basically ogling the array of condoms. Really. I don’t. Do your thing man. Just leave me out of it.

“They’re really nice condoms.”

Oh boy. “Yes. I can see that.”

“So do you use condoms?”

Wtf dude-old-enough-to-be-my-father! “Haha…you’re a funny guy.”

“Well, do you?”

“Yes.”

“Very good. Very good!”

Oh yeah. Totally awesome. Talking about it with you is just out-of-this-world, though. Would you like to know my favorite brand? Flavor? Color? I like neon. It glows in the dark. Much like your face. By the way, I notice you didn’t take any, you…you…unbelievably nosy person! Do not think for one second that I don’t know what you’re up to. You felt (needlessly) embarrassed that I caught you staring at condoms and you decided to project that embarrassment onto me! Listen man. Condoms are tiny bites of bliss. Like candy. Just grab and go. No big woof. See that toddler scooping all the candy his little hands can carry? He’s got the right idea. See his mother trying to put them back without starting World War III? Such a spoil sport. Take those little pleasures man.

Can someone show us a sneak peak of their awesome life? Wait! Someone already is! You know how pictures capture a moment and you look at it and piece the moment together? I’m looking at one right now. This guy cannot keep his hands off her. The whispers. The tiny kisses on her nape. The giggles. Wow. So kind of them. Letting us condom oglers live vicariously through them. Reminds me of that Coke advert…hot guy downing a Coke…girl staring…such thirst in her eyes…not for the Coke though, because she offers him another. Sometimes it’s just more fun to watch. Apparently.

Just two people ahead of me now. The Cape of Good Hope, at last. I totally get why they named it that! All those tired explorers. Jostled to the point of homesickness by perilous waters. Coming close to giving up many times. Wanting to give up. Except, giving up was not an option. Going back would have been suicidal. Literally. So they gritted their teeth and forged on. And at the Cape, good hope was replenished. Just like mine is. If I can just grit my teeth, while that lady checks the Mpesa paybill number for the 4th time. I mean, Jesus H Christ! 330010. Six digits. How hard can it be to get it right the first 3 times? She finally got it? Heaven should be so kind.

Next is condom guy. Then me. Hallelujah. The Angels in my head are a sound for sore ears. Last chance to pick the condoms…going once…going twice…not sold to the distinguished gentleman. Ah well. Some you win, some you lose.

“PASSWORD!”

What now?

There’s this thing with supermarket cashiers. They love that word. Say you picked an item not in your usual range of products. According to the commercials, Pantene is the shampoo your hair needs. Granted, it’s a little expensive, but your hair is your crown. You must unlock the potential in those locks. Just like it says on TV. So this time you take Pantene. It refuses to give you peace. Every time you look in your trolley…there it is taunting you. Seriously, these are like 2 packs of farmers’ choice sausages! But your nerves are made of steel – you shall not be cowed by such trivial considerations as price. Then you get to the till and watch the numbers rise steadily. It’s quick. Not at all like the IEBC process. No time at all to get apprehensive. You save the Pantene for last. The cashier runs it. 1800! That’s like 3 packs of sausages!

“No. Remove that.”

“PASSWORD!”

Yeah. They have to announce to everybody that you’ve changed your mind about Pantene!

The guy with the password waves. He has to swipe his card at two other tills before he gets to you. He finally saunters over. The guy with the password must walk like the guy with the password. Take your time darling. You are in no danger of having your head bitten off. None, whatsoever.

If you’re lucky, a quick swipe will fix the problem. If you’re unlucky, a quick fix will elude. The guy with the password will remain hunched over the other guy. They’ll keep whispering and typing and swiping. You’ll shift your weight from foot to foot. Eyeballing them with the full force of your impatience. You will get zilch, in way of explanation. None of that  Nakumatt professionalism here; “Sorry, we’re experiencing a slight technical hitch.”  Oh no. You will stand there and use your eyes until we’re ready for you.

Anyway, back to matters present. The gentleman leaves behind a copy of True Love. He must have done the math. “What? That’s like 2 packs of condoms! No way.  I mean, who needs True Love?”  Hahaha.

My turn. Finally.

There is a God!

Nail cutter. Nail file. Nail polish. Remover. Cotton wool.

What? I have really bad nails. I used to bite them. Then I stopped. I wish I hadn’t. At least then, I had a perfectly good explanation for my bad nails. Now, I have to talk about calcium deficiency. I mean. Give a woman a break! At least I’m making an effort.  Besides, I survived the queue and I totally kept my cool. A pat on the back would be nice.

What do I have to do around here? Eat githeri ?

A woman on all counts

 

Polly

Days have turned into months, since last she saw the moon. She knows what this means. She is now in the family way. A wave of hope, rises high. Perhaps now, he will stop hitting her.

Her walk is slow, the path treacherous. A fall from this height could take with it, the little hope stirring in her belly. Her back aches, just like Mama said it would, when finally a baby nestled within. The load on her head aggravates the ache, but the beer needs brewing – he gets really cranky without his beer.

She sighs.

Marriage is nothing at all like the games from her childhood…


“This is good beer!”  John exclaims. He is in character. Starring in the coveted role of ‘The man of the house’. He struts around in his threadbare shorts, totally unaware or unconcerned of his ashen butt cheeks, fully exposed. “Thank you my wife, thank you!”  He continues benevolently.

She smiles. Polly smiles. Today she plays the role of wife and mother. It gives her immense pleasure.

“Mama, I’m hungry!” the children chorus. Starring in these roles are her siblings, Joshua, Christine and Mercy.

“OK children.” She coos and dashes to the ‘kitchen’. The kitchen is 3 little stones with a bottle top on top. There is nothing in the ‘saucepan’, no fire underneath. “Just a few minutes!” she calls, “Let me serve the food.”

The children prance around impatiently. The little one begins to cry, but is soon appeased by the sight of Mama with the ‘bowls’ of ‘hot food’. Taking great care to observe protocol, she dispenses the meals. With everyone happily wolfing down air, Mama finally sits. The children ask for more. Mama gives from her plate. And then one by one, they fall asleep. Until the only mad man left in the yard, is her merry husband.

“Thank you Mother-of-my-children,” he sings tunelessly “I love you like this beer.”

***

Polly smiles. The walk down memory lane has shortened her trudge home. Yes, there is hope. Perhaps a child will deliver, where good beer has failed. Perhaps this child will bring love to a loveless life.  She enters her homestead, and a blinding pain sears her left shoulder. She staggers backwards and topples on a stone. The pot crashes and, and the water, the precious water, splashes everywhere.

“Where have you been?” The angry man demands.

She lies on the wet earth and tries not to whimper. Say nothing, it will only make him angrier! Her Mama’s voice echoes in her mind. But her silence, abates nothing. She feels a kick, then another, and another on her unprotected belly.

“Please,” she pleads “The baby.”

But he hears only a challenge to kick harder…


“Polly, what’s that on your dress?”  John asks.

He has fallen out of character. He never calls her Polly, when the game is in play.

“I’m not Polly.” She turns to remind him. “I am wi-”

But the words freeze on her tongue. The children are all staring at her, their faces, the very picture of horror.

“What is it?”

Your dress is red!” they chorus.

“You’re a woman now.” Her mother explains when she barges into the real kitchen. Polly sees her mother’s tears, and chokes it down to the harsh smoke swirling around.

Things happen very quickly after that. Word goes out, and the aunties soon arrive. Overnight, the homestead is teeming with people. Familiar faces and strangers. Something is brewing. But Polly can only tell from the noises and the smells that waft in.  She sits on a mound of sand, in a hut, secluded from all. The beads weigh heavier than usual on her neck – a burden clasped unceremoniously, by a stranger long ago.

Aunty Betty wafts in with a dish.

“Eat. You’ll need your energy for this part.”

“Which part?”

“Eat. We’ll be back soon to get you ready.”

“Ready for what?”

But the words boomerang from the closing door. She wrings her hands in frustration. There really is nothing to pick up and throw, in this wretched hut. So she sits on her mound of sand, hating the feel of blood draining from her body.

The women come and go. The smells waft in. The footsteps plonk and fade away. The voices chatter and whisper. Her mother stays firmly away. Leaving her daughter in the hands of aunties, she barely knows. Women who have wasted no time getting familiar. Just this morning, a paltry 3 days after her dress stained, they came in and ordered her to strip. They bathed her as if she were a little baby. Then they dressed her in crispy clean shukas.

Only then did her mother finally appear.

“Let me look at you.”

She is silent for a while, staring forlornly at her daughter. Twice, she begins to say something. Twice, she clamps her lips over her tongue. “Time to meet your husband.” She manages, finally.

They emerge from the hut. A red-eyed mother and her shell-shocked daughter.  The cheers erupt. It is apparently, a joyous occasion. The people sit in 2 semi circles. Familiar faces on one side, strangers on the other. Between them, sits an arena; a battlefield.

“Three days ago,” her father begins, stepping quickly into the arena “My daughter became a woman!”  The cheers erupt again. “Let us see if there is one, worthy of her hand.” 

With this challenge, he takes his seat. The father of the bride cannot engage in meaningless talk.

An elderly man rises from the other group.

“The beads on her neck were placed there by my son.” He says in way of introduction. “She was barely rid of her baby teeth then. My son has been patient, a long time.” With these words, he too takes his seat. The father of the groom cannot engage in meaningless talk either.

Two men now rise, one from each side of the divide. They take their positions in the arena. The air is electric. The duel soon begins.

“What have you to offer?” the man from the familiar side cuts straight to the chase.

“15 camels and 100 goats.”  The other man counters.

“Do you mean to insult us? 60 camels, her father gave for her mother. And you come here with this…this…this insult?”

“20 camels.” 

“You continue to insult, I see!” the man from the familiar side yells. “I can’t. I can’t!” He turns as if to walk away. “This is blasphemy!” he swings back into the circle. “Blasphemy! You hear me? Blasphe -”

“40 camels.”  The man from the unfamiliar side shouts. “40 camels and 200 goats.” 

A hush washes over the loud man. He glances briefly at the man he represents. The old man lifts his left hand and scratches the bare skin on his right shoulder. The predetermined signal has been given. It is all systems go!

Instinctively, the group knows that the battle is over. The two men walk toward each other, all traces of animosity, now vanished.  Large hands clasp. “Welcome to the family!”

The old men nod their approval. The women break into song. The dancers surround the bride – separated from her childhood by three days of bleeding.  

***

“Polly! Polly!”

She wakes up to vigorous shaking. It takes a moment for the memory to gash back, and the dull pain to resurface.

“What happened, Polly?” Her mother’s worried eyes bore into hers.

Polly’s  eyes well up. There is a wetness between her legs.  She remembers the splashing water.

“Help me up.”

“Polly,”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Polly,” Her mother persists “You are bleeding.”


Lolly

She lies on her back and counts sheep. It never works. Not in the traditional sense. The woolen embrace of sheep number 9 simply eludes. Still, she counts. Still she hopes that the man on top of her will soon be sated. He is not so bad, this one. His halitosis could knock out a latrine fly. But he never hits her. And he always pays. What more could she ask for?


“Not this guy again.” Vanessa groans. “My face is still swollen from his Friday madness.”

“Then don’t go with him.” The skinny girl quips eagerly. She’s the group rookie and it shows.

For her first day, Vanessa suggested she get a new name.

“You’ll need a name that says ‘come hither’.”

“But-”

“But nothing. You are now Lolly!”

“Lolly!? What does that even mean?”

“It’s short for lollypop and lollypops are sweet.”

“Ok fine. Lolly, it is.”

“That’s my girl.” Vanessa smiles.

She is so kind, this Vanessa. Took her in that morning 3 days ago – a disoriented girl in flight. At 17, Vanessa is the leader of her troop. She embraces Lolly with the speed of one, accustomed to leading. She is the serious one, always imparting practical morsels of information. Her sister, Shaila is more inclined to teasing. Grooming her for the road she has to take; telling silly jokes to lift her spirits. Together, they are the chattiest pair she ever did see.

But now, Vanessa says nothing.

The sleek Mercedes draws to a halt, right in front of them. A tinted window lowers just enough for a finger to pop out and beckon. Lolly watches in disbelief as Vanessa disappears into the car.

“I don’t understand…why did she go?”

Silence.

“She’s obviously unhappy going with him so why-”

“You don’t come here for happiness.” A voice snaps.

“But you can pick who you go with, right?”

All around her, laughter erupts.

“You obviously know nothing about this!”

“Out here, you take what you get.”  Shaila explains.

“Just don’t touch any of mine!” The same hostile girl warns.

It begins to dawn on Lolly, just how bad it is out here.

Another car pulls up. It has red plates and a very gentle purr. Nothing at all like the rickety buses she’s been used to. Whatever little she hasn’t deduced from the beauty of the car, she quickly absorbs from the reaction of the girls.  Shaila pushes her bosom forward. Bella pulls her belt of a skirt, a notch higher. Kaila leans in. Trisha struts to the car before it even stops.

“Hello handsome.” She purrs, like the car’s twin.

“Hey Chocolate.” A deep voice greets her. “Who is that?”

It takes Lolly a split second to realize that the man with the deep voice is pointing at her.

“She’s… no one. Do you want your usual treat?”

“Not today Chocolate. Today, I want her.”

“But -”

“Step aside Chocolate.”

Trisha steps back reluctantly and stands very close to Lolly. “Do not move a muscle.” She hisses.

Lolly’s heart pounds in her ears. She’s been selected from the horde!

She steps forward and the door opens. A door has actually opened for her! This is a first! As the car pulls away, Lolly catches sight of a smoldering Trisha. She shivers inadvertently. She knows she’s made an enemy. But what a way to make one!

She swiftly leaves behind, thoughts of cruel Trisha. But in the confines of this car, she soon discovers a whole new level of cruelty.


Paula

She lies on her side and struggles to stay still. Her growing tummy is in the way of comfort. In the backdrop of the silence, the ticking clock seems suddenly too loud. She pulls the duvet a little tighter around herself. A little too tightly perhaps; going by the gentle protest of the sleeping form by her side. She keeps still as long as she can, then she gets up and waddles out. The orange juice is calling her name.

Halfway to the kitchen, a sharp pain jolts her.  She tries to walk, but the pain is excruciating.

“Philip!” she calls.

He finds her, half-seated, half-bent, in the middle of the corridor.


“It’s no use!” she sobs into his shirt. “I can’t do this anymore.”

“Baby,” he whispers. But the choice of word cuts harsher than it soothes.

“I’m not a woman.” She sobs.

He knows this is not the time to debate. So he holds her until the storm subsides.


She lies on her bed and counts babies. It is all she does. All she has always done.

Counting. Being counted. Trying desperately to count for something.  To make it all count.

A knock startles her. Philip’s head pops in.

“Would you like some tea?” he offers

“It can’t all have been for nothing.” She tells him.

“Honey?”

“It has to count. They have to count.”

“Honey,” he repeats calmly. He’s now sitting next to her on the bed. “They do count.”

“Does Polly count?”

He nods.

“Does Lolly count?”

This time, he holds her close.

“They count.” He vows. “Polly is the road that took you to Lolly. Lolly is the road that brought you to Paula. Paula is the woman I love.”

“But Paula is not a woman.” Her eyes well up. “Paula will never be a mother.”

“Paula counts.” He pulls back and lifts her chin. “You’re a woman, on all counts.”

When the waters meet

June 2016

”I wonder how it will be when the waters finally meet.”  Amani gushes. Her face is flushed with excitement. Tom turns to his beautiful girlfriend. He considers her statement briefly.

“It will be like a reunion of long-separated soulmates.” He says.

“I wonder if the waves will roar as they rush toward each other.”

“And the fish? Do you think they’ll realize what’s happening?”

“What about the lake itself? Will it change when the waters meet?”

“It will be wonderful to watch.”

“Yes it will.”  Their guide jumps in. “Stones were used to connect the island to the mainland.” The guide pauses for effect. “But the waters were parted and the lake suffered.”

“Wow!” Amani whispers. “This is quite something.”

They thank their guide, and drive back to the mainland.

Amani sighs happily. She has never felt closer to Tom, than she does right now. It is right here on this island that their souls met. Theirs would never need excavation or bridging. Nature was their glue.


Wanja stares at the clock. Under different circumstances, she would have loved it. The simplicity of the carving; the ingenuity of the image. But the inscription. The inscription was the ultimate give away. This was not ‘just a gift’. It was the symbol of her husband’s infidelity. How could he bring it here? How could he hang it in their bedroom? How could he desecrate the one place she deemed him completely hers?

Well, today was the day. She took it from its place of honor and hurled it to the floor. Then she took a knife to it. Then she set the pieces on fire. No more, would its presence taunt her. No more would its ticking threaten her. It was as if it had never existed. Except in her mind where the inscription was permanently etched.


October 2016

“I love you, but I cannot be with you.”

“So this is it?”

“Yes. This is it.”

Amani looks at the man who had called her his soulmate. She sees no trace of the loving man she thought was there.

“When did you decide this?” she asks.

“Recently.”

“Why?” she persists. This meeting was supposed to be a reconciliation. Not a break-up.

“I had to make a difficult decision.”

She sheds the first of many tears. Right there in front of him. She hates herself for being so weak. For giving him the satisfaction of her tears. Her body feels like it’s coming apart. So she wraps her arms tightly around her knees to keep it together. The pain is like nothing she has felt in a long time. There is no morphine for this. She struggles. Really struggles. But the sobs wrack her body.

He just sits there sipping a cold coke.

January 2017

“You cannot just leave.” Hami declares.

Not this again!  Amani groans inwardly.

It was the one reprimand they all seemed to have for her. The all-seeing, perfect lot of them. Strangers and family, alike. Except in her case, they are all strangers. A pretentious lot of goody-two-shoes with a penchant for nosiness. Nosing only where they ought not to, and otherwise, keeping their noses primly pointed upward. Totally unconcerned about the happenings around them. Unless of course, they had something to lose.

“Where would you go?”  He demands

“Anywhere.” She retorts.

“Survival is tough out there.”

She looks at her brother with an expression of utter disbelief.

“What do you know about survival?” she scoffs. “You are spoilt and you are selfish!” The words sink like iron to the bottom of the massive pool in their backyard. For his next pronouncement, Hama rises to his full 6’7”

“Amani, as your big brother I must –“

“Big brother?” Amani interrupts. She too rises to her full 5’4”. “You are big. And you are my brother. But you’ve never been my big brother! Don’t pretend to start now.”

“Well then, go!” He thunders. “But know this, “I control the money. That means you get nothing until you turn 25.”

Aha! The other shoe drops. Amani thinks to herself. “And how different is that from what I’ve been getting?”

“Amani please!” a matronly voice joins the foray. “Why are you being like this?”

Amani turns to Aunt Banou. Her eyes flare with the disgust she feels. She remembers this very woman, a thinner version of her anyway, beating her chest in grief at the funeral. “I will be your second mother.” She declared, that somber day. A declaration that granted her unrestricted access to the wealth her brother had left behind. That and the fact that she was his only surviving sibling.

“My child, pl-”

“Your child?” Amani’s voice is eerily calm “Was I your child when you raided my trust fund? Was I perhaps your child when you were too busy to visit me in hospital? What about when your thug of a husband broke my wrist and you did nothing; was I your child then?”

“What’s all the ruckus?”  A forth voice joins in. It is full of food, as always. “Is it too much to ask for peace in this house?”

“For scavengers like you,” Amani addresses her aunt’s thug of a husband “it is too much to ask for anything.”

With this, she slams the door on her past.


Six weeks in, and she is no closer to ‘settling in’. She is still angry. But she has found something new to be angry with. The sun has become her arch-nemesis.  It just sits arrogantly at the crown of the sky, casting unforgiving rays every which way. It rages and it burns. Stubbornly unapologetic for the trees, bare of leaves and the riverbeds, bare of water. She is just another toy for this mighty torch.  It trails her footsteps. It burns right through the shoes she dorns.

“Live or leave.” The sun taunts silently. But in this, most uneven of playing fields, the sun’s victory is delayed.

Amani knows she’ll lose eventually. Not just yet though. There is more in this bare, bare village, than there ever was in her world of superficial plenty.


“You cannot just give up every time things get difficult!” The old lady mutters.
“I’m not giving up!” Amani protests.
“Yes you are.” The wise eyes drill deep into hers. She looks hastily away.

Around them, the village continues unperturbed. The children play their basic games. The women scamper about in a flurry of activity. Peeling. Cleaning. Cooking. The men sit in a circle, discussing the matter of so-and-so encroaching on the garden of so-and-so. The complainant is a woman. A widow with no sons. Her two daughters shriek gleefully with the other children, blissfully unaware of the fate that hangs so precariously over them. The defendant is a man. The younger, alcoholic brother of the late man. His speech is slurred, incoherent. Her speech is clear, logical.

Amani looks at the faces of the men. She sees in their hardened expressions, the verdict they’ve already reached. Then she turns her eyes to the widow. The lone tree in the storm. For a split second, their eyes lock. In each others eyes, they see the cinders of dying fires. They both look away. The only thing sadder than a bleak reality, is a bleak mirror image.

“You have the demeanor of a wounded deer.” The kind voice drags her back. “Your instinct is to hide. But hiding is no guarantee that you won’t bleed out.”
Next to them, a woman scrapes the slimy film off the freshly peeled cassava.
For the first time in a very long time, Amani gets the feeling that someone is scraping the layer of mystery she has worked so hard to cultivate.
“I’m not hiding. I’m not bleeding.” She pauses. “But if for arguments sake, I am hiding and bleeding, does it really matter to anyone?”
The old lady says nothing. She has scraped off a huge chunk.


You can’t be serious!” The woman in the circle shouts. “Thomas was your brother. How can you do this?”

“The decision is fair!” The defendant proclaims.

“Fair? Is it fair to grab from me? Is it fair that you sell me a portion of my land? Is it fair that you make squatters of my children? Your nieces?”

The men squirm uncomfortably around the circle. The soft spoken woman had shocked them with her voice. She was supposed to take the verdict with the same meek demeanor she had so far portrayed.

“You should thank them for their consideration.” Her brother in-law admonishes. “Do you think they have nothing better to do than to listen to your whining?” His voice booms around the homestead.

Amani looks around her. The children have stopped playing. The women have stopped their flurry of activities. Even the cassava peeler sits still, with her knife in mid-strike.

The men rise and leave. Their work here is done. Beer will flow today.

The woman casts a desolate figure, surrounded by a circle of empty chairs. For a split second, she remains there, eyes downcast. Unable to look at her children. Then one by one, the women walk to her. None of them is surprised by the turn of events.

“It will be OK.”  The old voice speaks, once again. The women grunt their agreement. Amani slinks off into the scorching heat. She has no interest in this charade. She has travelled through many barefaced lies.


“I saw you at the gathering.”

Amani looks up from her stone at the little spring. It’s not a question, but she feels obliged to answer.

“Yes.” She mumbles. “Sorry, it didn’t go your way.”

“Which is my way exactly?” The widow asks.

“Getting custody of the land?”

The widow laughs. It is a mirthless laugh.

“The land is nothing.”  She mutters. “Having him here, alive. That would be my way.”

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.” The widow smiles.

The ensuing silence is awkward. Almost. Amani sighs inaudibly.

“I like to come here and listen to my radio.” She holds up a tiny radio. “It reminds me just a little, of the life I left behind.”

“Was it a good life?” The widow asks.

“The best.” Amani jokes. “It was so good, I couldn’t stand it.”

The widow smiles. It is so refreshing to meet someone who laughs at herself. She thinks.

The news starts, and Amani turns up the volume.

“His Excellency the President today launched the Rusinga bridge….” Amani does not hear the rest of that sentence.

“Wow!” she gushes excitedly “The waters met.”

“What did you say?” The widow asks.

“Oh…there’s this island called Rusinga, it was joined to the mainland by a cause-”

“Yes, I know.” The widow responds. “But what did you say?”

“I said the waters met.”

“Interesting choice of words.”

It is not a question. Yet again, Amani feels obliged to explain. “It’s just something I used to say.”

“I was just taking flowers to my husband’s grave. Would you like to come?”

“Sure.” Amani replies. It’s a strange invitation. But who can explain the actions of the grieving?


At the grave, she nearly passes out.

Her words stare back at her.

“When the waters meet, we will be together.

We will look back for eternity, at the moment the waters met.”

The widow helps her to sit down.

“We haven’t been formally introduced,” she says “I am Wanja. I know now that my Thomas was your Tom.”

“I’m so sor-” Amani begins.

“Don’t be.” Wanja interrupts. “It was destined, that we meet so I could finally forgive him.”

I am not the one who leaves

“Crack it!” A shrill voice pierces the night sky. It sounds menacing, but she can’t tell where it came from.
“Crack it!” A baritone joins in.
“Crack it!” A little girl screams.  This one, she sees clearly, except there is a huge bandage where her face should be. A red line cuts like a ribbon, straight down the middle of her scalp. It seems vaguely familiar.
A faceless crowd has grown while she studied the little girl. The chant gets louder. Angrier.  They are baying for something. She does not know what.

The little girl takes her place at the front of the crowd.

“Crack it! Crack it! Crack!”
“OK. I’ll crack it.” She tries to appease them. She has to crack it. If only she knew what ‘it’ was! “Leave me alone!” Her voice sounds panicky, even to herself.
“I’m not the one who leaves.” The little girl whispers. She is now so close, her bleeding scalp is visible.
“Who then? Who leaves?”
The little girl shakes her bandaged head.
The crowd is much closer now. A wave of claustrophobia sweeps over her. She can feel the air being sucked out of her lungs. Her knees begin to buckle.

Suddenly she feels herself being lifted up. She looks up to a familiar face.
“Let’s get you out of here.” He whispers.
“Wait!” She shouts. But the word is without sound. Her abductor only smiles.
She turns her face to where the little girl is standing.
“I’m not the one who leaves!” The little girl shouts after her.

Patty wakes to darkness. She is drenched in sweat. The darkness lifts and she tries desperately to cling to the pieces of her dissipating dream.
The faceless girl had spoken! She had never spoken before. Perhaps if she could just go back to sleep- the little girl would explain what she meant.

Patty sighs. She knows she will be drowsy in school. She never goes back to sleep after this dream.

“Good morning Patty!” Dad’s voice calls. “You were up early.”
“That’s me.” Patty smiles. She looks at the familiar face of the rescuer in her dream. She goes to hug him.
“Thanks dad.”
He puts tender hands on her shoulders, and refrains from asking “What for?” He knows what this means. She had her dream again. He refrains from asking what she saw this time. She will tell him when she’s ready. Usually, at the most inopportune time. He knows not to push her. From his vantage height, he can see clearly, where her thick hair parts naturally to reveal the long scar on her scalp. He bends to kiss her forehead. She knows that he knows.

Breakfast is a quiet affair. Cornflakes for her. A slice of toast and coffee for him.
“The bus will soon be here.” She rises and grabs her bag. He too rises.
“Last one is a fat potato!” she challenges and makes a run for the door. He follows in hot pursuit. The bus pulls up just in time to catch the pair, giggling like little girls.

“She spoke to me.” Patty announces and bounds into the bus.
“Wait, what?” He calls after her. She squeezes her face through the window and it blurs instantly. “Love you.” He mouths and watches the bus pull away. For the first time in a very long time, he realizes just how terrified he really is. The little girl had spoken. It only took 2 years of counseling to make that happen!


“Your wife suffered severe injuries. There’s nothing we could do for her. I’m sorry.”

What was this white coat yammering about? She was supposed to be a doctor. Doctors were supposed to save people. So why was she standing there telling him that Jolly was dead? How dare she walk away from him?
“You killed her!” He shouted. Her footsteps faltered, but she kept going.
“You killed her!” He bellowed. So focused on her retreating back, he didn’t notice the men approach.
“Sir you need to calm d-”
The rest of that sentence was doused in the stars of a properly delivered right hook. Then everything happened very quickly.
When he woke up, the fluorescent lighting hurt his eyes. He blinked, and the memory budged in through the gaping wound.
“You are drunk Peter…let me drive.”
“Nonsense! This car knows its way home. Josh, get in the car!”
“Peter, look at me. Please let me drive us home.”
“Babe, I’m the man in this relationship. I’m driving. And your DL is just 2 days old.”
“Two months. Peter pl-”
“Why must you undermine me in front of our son? Why must you -?”
“OK, fine. Let’s go.”


“…there’s nothing we could do for her. I’m sorry…”
“You killed her!”
No, you did.
“You killed her!”
He was yelling his lungs out, but the accusation was loudest in his head.

Lying here in this hospital bed, the shouting was no longer necessary. He submitted to the crushing guilt.

I killed her. I’m the worst husband and father in the wor- OH MY GOD!
Where is Josh!?

He sat up so quickly, the room began to spin


“Your son was a fighter. We lost him at 3.37am.” It was a male doctor this time. He was flanked by two men and their bulging muscles.
“-any questions, Sir?”
They were actually waiting for an answer.
“Are you God?” He asked.
“No Sir.”
“Then I don’t have any questions for you.”


“Ime crack?”
“Hii ime crack. Gota hiyo buda!”
“We ni mnoma jo!”
Peter listened. He loved the way kids from this part of town played with language. Even through their slurred speech, he could hear the thrill in their voices. He wondered what they had cracked. Then he bounded the corner and froze. The boys were standing over a little child.
“Wewe!”
The boys turned and ran. They need not have bothered. He had way too many ghosts to chase.

At the hospital, it was quick-fire after quick-fire.
“What’s her name?”
“I don’t know.”
“What happened to her?”
“I don’t know. Two  boys were standing over her. They must have -”
“Who will pay for her treatment?”
“I will.”
“Sir -”
“I said I’ll pay.”

“We’ll have to notify the Police.


Sitting in his car like a numb zombie, Peter remembers those first nights. Driving aimlessly on the East side of Nairobi. Looking for a darkness that would obliterate the darkness in his heart. Wishing he could die by the same hand, he had dealt his wife and child. It was Eastlands for Chrissake – death was supposed to run several dispensers over there. Night after night, he had come back home, disappointed that his recklessness had failed to bring home the ultimate prize.

There were other joys in Eastlands. Top of his list, was the absence of nosy friends and relatives. The pubs in his area code could not offer this level of peace. If he had a penny for every time a pair of pitying eyes had ruined a perfectly good drink!

“You’ve had enough Peter…”

“You can’t drive in this state Peter…”

Yada yada yada! Why couldn’t they just leave him alone?

 

Then there was his mother, dropping in unannounced to ‘check on him’, complimenting the gardener, supervising the cleaner, giving menu suggestions to the chef – all employees hired by Jolly. Peter felt especially sorry for the chef.  The flowers would still blossom; the windows would still shine; but there was simply no one to appreciate the chef’s culinary skills.

“Peter, you need another wife.”

“What the fuck, Mom?”

She barely flinched at the crass language. She had known coming in that it would be excruciating. Hers was a last ditch effort to save her child from the fate he was so obviously gunning for.

“I’m not being insensitive Peter. But they are dead, and you are still ali -”

“You shall never speak of this again!” He had interrupted and stormed out, nearly knocking down the chef and whatever delicious crap he’d whipped up this time.

He remembered driving like a mad man. Drinking like one too. Wandering the streets for hours, wondering where the heck all the gangsters were.

Finding her with the boys. Picking her up. Hesitating for a moment to contemplate his ability to drive. Starting the car and making a deal with God, that if he got them safely to the hospital, he would never drink again. The mad rush to the hospital. Shirtless because he’d used his shirt to wrap her head. What a sight, they must have been. The broken child and the broken man.

The questions were endless, the answers in-existent. But he was at the hospital first thing every morning, and he left reluctantly every night. The nurses thought he was a hero for saving her. Watching her fight to stay alive, Peter knew better. The wound in his chest had eased a little bit. The woman and the boy were no longer sad ghosts stalking his lightest winks. They seemed to be smiling now. Nodding their approval for the one he had saved. Except, he wasn’t sure he had saved her. Not yet, anyway.

The wound on her head healed fast. But the child was in no hurry to heal. She wouldn’t speak. She displayed no emotion, except hesitation and confusion at the choice treats dumped on her lap. Nothing seemed to interest her. Her favorite hangout joint was a tiny corner of the cold floor by her bed.

Then one morning, not long after she’d been discovered, he found her staring rapt at a stack of chapattis in a commercial on telly.

“Chapatti.” She pointed. Up until that moment, she’d refused to utter a word.

“You want chapatti?”

“Chapatti.” There was a hint of agitation in her voice.

“OK. Let’s get you chapatti.”

“Chapatti.” She echoed.

Chapatti became the peace offering. The icebreaker. The seven course meal.

“What’s your name?”

“Chapatti.”

“No. No. Your name.”

“Chapatti.”

“You want to eat chapatti?”

“Chapatti.”

Slowly, the pieces began to fall into place. Chapatti was a memory. A place of comfort. Chapatti cracked open a peephole to the child he knew was hiding inside this five year old blank.

So every morning, he brought chapatti.

Every morning, her eyes lit up.

Every morning, he asked for news on his ‘expression of interest’ to adopt her.

Every morning, his eyes clouded over with disappointment. He had hoped to take her home from the hospital, but the system was a truckload of bureaucracy.

When finally she was discharged from hospital, his morning visits went with her to Little Seeds Children’s Home. The Law was the Law. It didn’t care much about this child when she was out getting hacked, but it suddenly had all this red tape when someone wanted to keep her safe!


 

“It’s been 10 months!” Peter yelled. “10 months!”

“I understand your frustration.”

“How much longer?”

“Well, it’s mandatory for us to try to trace the child’s family. We have been unsuccessful so far. Hopefully, the panel will have a decision on your application soon.”

Peter felt his irritation mounting. The woman sounded like a pre-programed voice over. Repeating the same speech, word for word, and making it sound like she was showing never-before-seen-footage of the thrilling journey towards adoption.

Meanwhile, the little girl was slowly inching out of her shell.  Aside from all the red tape, her name was the other thorn in his flesh.

“Good morning Cha -Patty.” It was a personal struggle, accepting her chosen name.

“Good morning Pe – ter.” She mimicked.

“Have you thought about a name?”

“I already have a name.”

“We can’t call you Chapatti.”

“Why not?”

“Do you want to go to school?”

“Yes.”

“You can’t have that name in school.”

“Why not?”

“Do you want the kids to pick on you?”

Been there, done that. Her shrug seems to say. End of discussion. Usually.

That morning though, he pushed just a little harder.

“We eat chapatti every day.”  He said.

“We used to eat chapatti every day.” She quipped.

Instinctively, he knew he had struck gold. Where was that therapist when he really needed her! Well, he would just have to wing it.

“Tell me more.”

“Mummy used to bring me chapatti in the morning.”

“From where?”

“Work.”

“She used to go to work at night?”

“Yes.”

“And you would stay at home with who?”

Silence.

“Alone?”

A subtle nod.

“When she stayed home, the men would come home. Then I’d have to stay out on the veranda until they left.”

Oh dear God.

“One day, it was raining. I went back to the house. Mummy said I should wait outside. I started crying. The man picked a knife and came to me. Mummy jumped in front of him and told me to run. Why are you crying?”

Belatedly, Peter remembered to display stoicism.

But the wells were not to be shut down that easily. The guilt was crushing.

“You can keep the name Chapatti.” Addressing the least of his worries, he had never felt so petty. His side was her side. Whatever her name was.

“Patty is fine.”  She whispered.

The number of times she’d rolled her eyes when he called her Patty!

The therapist found them clinging to each other for dear life.


Now, the little girl had spoken. Peter knows he cannot stand the suspense. He starts the car and speeds off in the opposite direction from his posh office suites. When the car finally stops, he gets out and makes a beeline for her classroom. He doesn’t get that far

“Dad! What are you doing here?”

“Patty, what did the little girl say to you?”

“I’m not the one who leaves.”

“What?”

“Say it Dad.”

He studies her face, and it suddenly dawns on him. He is not the only one who needs reassurance.

“I’m not the one who leaves.” He vows with everything he’s got.

“Neither am I.” She whispers into his warm gut.

Suddenly, the curtain falls apart and golden sunlight streams in.

They have each other.

 

Garissa

 

Back in the day (five years ago), Ukasi was the point where the road ground to a halt. There was still road ahead, it stretched on and on for miles, but Ukasi was the end of the-sing-along-eat-along-road-trip-banter.   You could tell by the number of vehicles – PSVs, land cruisers with their white flags and Codan antennas; white plates, blue plates, red plates, all stopping short of the invisible line on the road. The mood was always pensive, the vehicles revving to go.  Some drivers, taking one last tinker at the bothersome nut – heaven forbid it should fall off, and with it, its vehicle from the speeding convoy!

The rules were simple – the only speed limit was the lowest you could go; you could not fall off the convoy; you could not stop for anything or anyone. The unspoken rules were simple too – you kept your mouth shut and your eyes wide open. You dared not fall asleep. Your breathing was at once muted and loud. If from the corner of your eye, you caught sight of a dangerous glint, you mumbled a prayer for the Nth time. You thought of all the things you should have done before this trip; all the things you vowed to do ‘the instant’ you got back.

Ukasi has not changed much. The buildings are still few, the vegetation just as scanty. But the convoys are no more. We turn our heads – not just the corners of our eyes, to the view outside the windows. Acacias and Baobabs look back, unperturbed. Closer to Garissa, we notice another species of plant. Polythene bags flapping incorrigibly from branches and twigs, black tongues sticking out of barren soil, plastic bottles lolling in the hot sand.  Weeds that will surely be the bane of life, as we know it.

Suddenly, a patch of luscious green pops out of the thorny landscape. The Garissa bridge beckons and the Tana River ambles on underneath. Serenity at its best, except for the checkpoint, sitting smack in the middle of the bridge. The armed personnel wave us through. It feels like one of those places worthy of a sign that begins ‘You are now entering…’

The hotel is something else. It gives new meaning to the word oasis.

Dinner is Ugali and goat fry…at least that’s what we ordered. What we eat though, is thick porridge and goat fry. Serves us right! I mean, what the heck were we thinking ordering ugali in Garissa? We enjoy it as best we can, and then it is bedtime.

The dance of darkness begins. Matters, personal hygiene swiftly dispensed with, I lay on the bed and wait for sleep. It’s been a long day; the night promises a different kind of long. I’m too tired to think, but the thoughts come gushing in. Images of stricken students; half-dressed; running barefoot across the field; the sound of gunfire hot on their heels. Not sure when thought and dream went to bed together, but they take my mind with them. The dance of darkness continues.

I wake up to pitch black. Time check, 2am. I need a bathroom break. I blink and wait for the darkness to lift. It does not.  I reach for the light switch and freeze. What if right that minute, ‘THEY’ were out there positioning themselves?  What if, by flipping the switch, I was alerting them to a lone night bird?  The purring AC sounds suddenly too loud. I promptly put it to sleep. Belatedly, I wonder if perhaps I’ve drawn their attention to the now quiet AC. What if they choose me as target zero?  I remember that my room is right next to stairs…would I even have a fighting chance?  Earlier, during our tour of the hotel grounds, I’d noted an exit hidden in the trees. Assuming I got that far, would I find them waiting?

My mind, and the rest of my body decide that the venture to the bathroom, a few short steps away, is far too risky. We vote to ‘minimize movement’ until it is safe to come out. But my bladder, my stubborn, stubborn bladder hears none of it. It scoffs and bides its time. In tandem with the decision to remain in bed, I go online and read all the messages I’d been too tired to read earlier. I write a few messages of my own. But everyone, it appears, is asleep. I’ve never been so desperate for company.

Meanwhile, my bladder makes it known that it, not I, was boss. What’s a woman to do, but creep stealthily to the bathroom and back! Finally, I drift off, and when next, I open my eyes; the room is flooded in glorious sunlight.

The day’s activities include a visit to the scene of Kenya’s most gruesome attack in recent times. ‘Garissa University College’, the writing screams on the wall. The armed Police Officer takes our IDs and points us in the general direction of the memorial. Inside the compound, it is deeply serene. A cloud of uncertainty shadows our steps. The hairs on our napes prickle in awareness of our surroundings. It does not help that the compound is a ghost town – the students are on a short break.

At the memorial, we stand in silence. 148 names stare back at us.

We are met by the Assistant Dean. He insists that we must be ‘properly inducted’ through this chapter of our history.

“Feel free.”  He tells us.

He walks with us back to 5am on that fateful day. He points out the hostels where there students were holed up. Even the hostel where the girls were lured out to their deaths with the promise that they would not be harmed. He points out the field across which the students ran to the fence. He narrates how he jumped over the fence and found a group of students, who even under those, most difficult of circumstances, still looked to him for leadership. So he assembled them, and together, they wandered in search of a police station. And when finally they stumbled upon a military base, they stopped frozen, their arms raised in surrender, at the sight of the armed man with his gun pointed at them. They’d spent the last couple of hours running away from the very thing that was now trained at them.

They were done running.

“We were half dressed,” He reminds us “most of us were barefoot or shirtless. We must have looked like a bunch of trouble makers!” He smiles. “We just stood there until he came over and heard our plight.”

The ensuing hourse were long. They waited with bated breath for news that it was over. When the news finally came, it brought with it the staggering number 1-4-8.

Looking at the Assistant Dean, I see no sign of defeat. Behind his sad smile, I see proof of the resilience of the human spirit. After the attack, all the surviving students were relocated to other campuses.

He came back.

“We are back on our feet,” He tells us with one final smile “Take this information with you.”

Back to the old school

There’s something about fairy tales that takes willing prisoners of intelligent people. You know it’s total hogwash. I mean, a princess with skin so delicate she could feel a pea through stacks and stacks of the softest feather mattresses! A prince with a kiss so magical, he woke a princess from a hundred year sleeping spell! Total hogwash! Totally enchanting. You read it and you want it to be true. Your left leg lifts and bends backwards of its own volition when your very own prince charming kisses you. Never you mind how far-far-away from charming or princely your chap actually is. It only matters that it bears similarity to a scene from ‘Long, long ago in a Kingdom far, far away…”

But enchanting as this all sounds, am not going anywhere near far-far-away…not tonight at least. Tonight, am going back to not-so-long-ago in a place not-so-far-away…

It all started as these things often do. With an old letter. The paper, although well preserved, was clearly from a different time. The handwriting, although neat and legible, was clearly not the work of quill. Dated 17thJune 2009 (which some people will have you believe is like a thousand years ago), it started out with a surprisingly modern salutation:

“Hi Gal,

The Gals here have come up with an idea called ‘Back to the old school’. First off the blocks is letter writing.

You remember the greetings: How are you? How’s everyone? One would stop there before greeting all the neighbors, chickens and goats! ”

I’m not one to make a fuss of things, but this opening warmed my heart and damn well cracked open a window to an all but forgotten world. A world where people made an effort to check up on people. I’m not talking recycled memes posted from group to group until your poor Samsung Galaxy ‘something, something’ conks out of full memory syndrome. I’m not talking the IMs (Instant Miscommunication), or the LMAOs (am not really Laughing My Arse Off, am just saying that so you can Leave My Arse Out of your shit)

I’m talking whole words and whole sentences on whole fools caps – back to back. The whole nine yards, baby. The letter continues:

“For starters, we or you have gone silent…even our bi-monthly chats have gone cold. People say that long distance relationships are the hardest to maintain, and right now am kinda like in agreement. But, am not about to let go, lady. I’ll go back to the 80s and pull out one of the olden days communication techniques…”

OK…just a freaking minute! I feel like I should point out that the fellow writing this letter was born in the 80s. So was I. We do not – repeat – we do not refer to the 80s as the ‘olden days’. Only the 90s chaps do. Damn 90s chaps. Making us feel ancient just because we love 2pac, who by the way, was a huge hit in the 90s!  Any who, the letter continues:

“You gotta know, I miss you. The IGC misses you and we know – well, we hope that you miss us too. I’m not kidding myself – the Martha I know can just walk into any room and makes friends without breaking a sweat and I bet you have quite a number. But come on, you gotta miss us too…”

The IGC was the Independent Girls Club. I don’t quite know what we did, but it was loads and loads of fun. As the name suggests, it was an all-girls club, right? Wrong. The fellow writing this letter was, for all intents and purposes, not a girl. He claimed the ‘G’ was for guys. Poor chap.

Other than the mild dissent over the group name, we were inseparable. We didn’t rock afros; we didn’t wear bellbottoms; we didn’t carry a boom box. We might as well have. For some crazy reason, we stood out. The other girls loathed us. The boys loved us. Not our fault. Not all the time anyway. But some people just could not take a joke! Jeez!

Like this April Fools day – that instant when the clock strikes 00:00…we slipped handwritten ‘secret admirer’ letters under the doors of the ‘hottest’ boys. The letters professed deep love and asked the readers to meet ‘me’  in the TV room where ‘I’ would be waiting because ‘I’ could not stand it any longer.

Then we sat in the TV room and waited. All six of us. With straight faces, we watched the room fill up with boys. We watched the eagerness on their faces turn to WTF expressions. Each of them was coming for a clandestine meeting of the hearts. They’d read those notes, missed a beat of their healthy hearts, crossed their fingers and prayed fervently

“I hope it’s her. I hope it’s her. Please let it be her!”

Then they walked in, took a double take and calmly sat down to watch the movie. Like who were they kidding? Who the heck wakes up at 00:05 to watch a movie? They kept glancing at us. (We were seated at the very back of the room. Exactly where the note said ‘I’ would be. Some of the boys must have seen ‘her’ in one of us. Some of them even came over and tried to explain their predicament.

“Yes, there was a girl here.” We told them “But she left as soon as we came in.”

Of course, the boys knew they had been had. They also knew that we were the culprits. They just couldn’t prove it.

The irony of it was that both sides had actual secret admirers. One on one discussions became the order of the day. The boys claimed they were ‘investigating’. Typical conversations went something like this:

“We know it was you girls.”

“Who is ‘we’?”

“I know it was you girls.”

“Haha. Nope.”

“I prayed before I came upstairs.”

“Really? You prayed?”

“Yes. I hoped it was you.”

Now there’s a real life fairy tale. Or the stirrings of one.

Ugali Gold

 

8am Tuesday morning, I’m walking to work. That’s right, I walk to work. This physique of mine can’t just tone itself, you know!

So I’m walking. Rather briskly, I might add.

At Naivas Supermaket, I meet a guy. Normally, I wouldn’t pay him any attention. Matter of fact, I don’t remember what he looked like or what he wore. Only that he had a noticeable swagger…like he’d just won the lottery or something. In his hand, I saw the reason for the spring in his step – he was carrying maize flour! I was like whoa! Naivas has Unga!

Second guy, also carrying the stuff. Steady on Martha…past the supermarket I went. Five paces out, my footsteps falter. My inner voice is yelling at me –

“WTF Martha? Go get Ugali!”

So I do a 360, grit my teeth while the female guard pokes around in my bag. That (un)pleasantry out of the way, I make a bee line for the flour aisle. The whole thing feels WEIRD! I don’t think I’ve ever been to this part of the supermarket this early. Seriously, I should be buying breakfast, not dinner! But I soon feel right at home. Everyone and their brother has 2 packs – at least! I meet a woman with 6 packs . “Gosh! She’s taking everything!”  My inner voice hisses.

At the farthest corner of the crowded aisle, I find the stash. It isn’t my favorite brand. I hesitate for a second…

“Is there no other brand?” a woman asks an attendant.

“Madam,” the attendant responds “Take the flour you can see right now.”

I take heed. Scoring 2 whole packs!

The mood in my mind changes. It sounds like a standing ovation in there…I can just see scores of mini people doing the Mexican wave “Olé, Olé, Olé,Olé…
Speaking of all things Mexican…is this flour one of them? Do I even want to touch that live wire?

On to more immediate issues –Ugali gold paid for…now what? Should I leave it at the luggage section and pick it later? Can I really trust those guys with my gold? Nope!  Sigh. My lovely walk just became a tad less enjoyable. What with having to lug 2 packs of unga!

Lost in this surreal excitement over unga, it  suddenly occurs to me that I’m now the focus of attention. I begin to wonder if I’ve just compromised my safety. Thoughts I reserve only for days when I carry a backpack. In Nairobi, backpack equals laptop equals target on your back! Just yesterday, this little old lady was walking too close to my backpack…I gave her one look and a wide berth. Yap! In Nairobi, you trust no one. Not even if they look like your loving grandma. Never know what laser sharp weapons they might be concealing under those harmless facades!

And to find that the reason for the latest red dot on my forehead is ugali? Now, I’ve really seen it all!

I get to the office safely. My colleagues eye me. But in the place of judgement, I see only awe.

“Is that unga?”
“How did you get unga?”

I feel like a savvy consultant.
“Naivas, -” I announce dramatically “- but I don’t know how much is left!”

And so, the narrative continues;

“Are you going to town? Please check if there’s unga.

“The queue is too long at Tusky’s.”

“This is madness!”

“I sure hope our stash outlasts this craziness!” Ms. Inner voice quips.

I agree with her.

When next I need to restock, I hope that ugali will once again be just ugali – National dish, not National treasure!

The Last Possible Minute

In the dying hours of 2016, I penned a vow to myself; a public one at that – No more procrastination.

Well, it’s the 4th of June and I’m proud to announce that my performance has been nothing but stellar so far…I’ve done everything on time, or you know, within the ‘time frame’ I intended to do it. What’s a few minutes here and there?

For instance, my alarm is set for 4.20am on weekdays. I know, and my phone knows that I have no intention whatsoever of waking up at this time. Of course once in a while, I actually get up on the first ring.

Scenario 1: PowerPoint presentation first thing in the morning and I didn’t get a chance to prepare it because…well, because the flipping weekend just beamed right past me! It’s not like I spent all weekend getting cozy with the housemates at Graceland. Honest. I just woke up, yawned a few times, next thing I know it’s a few hours to Monday morning. So I wake up on the first ring, because visions of an angry Boss are not exactly lullaby material.

Scenario 2: Morning flight to catch and of course I didn’t pack last night because…well, because I hate packing. Besides, it’s only 5 days in Homabay…so I’ll just ‘toss’ my well packed toilet bag, a few corporate t-shirts and pairs of jeans into my safari bag and I’ll be good to go! Plenty of time to do this in the morning. I’ll be up way before my alarm. Visions of missed flights? Way scarier than angry bosses! I like the security checks at the JKIA, but when you are pacing impatiently between mini heart attacks because your cab is just lost in the myriad of cars awaiting their security check, you begin to really question the system. And if sweaty and out of breath, you finally arrived at the check-in counter five minutes after it closed, you know you’ll never oversleep again.

There is no ‘time frame’ in scenarios 1 and 2. Only time.

Scenario 3: Normal day. Alarm goes off at 4.20am. My hand reaches out; my thumb finds the snooze button. Half an hour later, repeat action. A whole hour later, I drag my sleepy arse out of bed. No worries. I woke up within the time frame.

Just like I’m writing this post within the time frame. I’m hunched over my laptop, hopeful that I’m leaving behind a trail of fine writing clear of spelling mistakes because…well, because there won’t be time to proof read. Every Sunday, same thing. Of course I know better. I know that disciplined people set ‘internal deadlines’ aka the deadline before the actual deadline.

I do too. Mine is called ‘the last possible minute’. Next Sunday will be better. I’ll set the last possible minute a tad earlier than the last possible minute.

I was afraid

 

 

Before I started this blog, I talked and talked about it. It was an item on my ‘This-Time-I’ll-do-it’ list. You know that list, right? You must have one too. I don’t know how yours works, but mine just seems to grow numerically. More and more line items. Barely any marked ‘done’ or at the very least ‘attempted’.

But I take comfort in my list. It makes me feel like I’m doing something. Going somewhere. Each line item representing a thumbtack on my map. Oh, you should see my map…it’s a work of beauty.  A colorful maze of strategy. Never you mind if it appears static! I’m simply planning.

As I did with the blog. I planned more seriously than a general leading his troops to war. And then I planned some more. The mission was critical; the gains were unknown; the fails were limitless. And so I scrutinized every angle. Double-checked every voice of ‘reason’.

Once, I asked Steve – you remember Steve, right? He of the ‘Boy meets girl’ swimming coach saga? Yes, him. Turns out, the coaching gig is his night job. Is anyone shocked?

Anyway, I asked Steve if there would be any pressure to post articles once the blog was up and running. He burst out laughing.

“What pressure? It’s your platform. You do whatever you want, whenever you want!”

A whole year after this conversation, I finally plucked up my nerve. OK, this is only half the truth. The other half is that Steve basically issued an ultimatum.

“Look here Missy – it is five days to Christmas, so get your act together and do a Christmas post already!”

So I did. And then my nerves really kicked in. No pressure, indeed!

“Steve, what do you think of my article?”

“I’m traveling right now. I haven’t read it.”

Shit.

“Lamech, please check out my blog.”

Silence.

“Maina, please check out my blog.”

Silence.

Jackie, Lena, Juliex3, Patrick, Shirlyn, Winnie.  My inner circle was silent. And I was going crazy! They hated it and they just didn’t know how to say it without hurting my feelings. I chewed on that, and then I stewed, and then I got really mad. Say something, damn it!

I finally heard back from Jackie in the wee hours of the night. OK. It was only 8pm.

“I’ve had a really long day -”

Oh, don’t bullshit me lady!

“- but I’ll read this before I go to bed, promise.”

Great! I wonder what excuses the rest of the bunch will come up with.

At that moment, I would have given anything to turn the clock back to that morning. I so badly missed the bliss of planning. The silence on the battleground was brutal! Never ending!

In truth, it was barely half an hour since I’d shared the link with anyone. That’s how severe my melt down was!

The inner circle finally came through.  They reached through the vast wilderness and held my digital hand. My nerves relaxed a little bit. Time took care of the rest.

Eventually, it dawned on me that I was still breathing. It might seem ridiculous, that I was that petrified about launching something this small. But to me, it wasn’t just a blog. It was me, bare on the table. It was my dream, fragile and alone on the battle field. It was nothing. It was everything. It was freedom on the mountain top.

I finally stopped planning long enough to draw my sword and slay the giant of fear.

Well, ‘slay’ is an exaggeration. I merely brought the bugger to his knees. He’ll be back soon enough –  casting a shadow over every item on my ‘This-Time-I’ll-do-it’ list. I suppose I’ll just have to keep drawing my sword. Maybe someday I’ll put him down for good. Meantime, this sword-drawing thing is really growing on me!

Mama

 

I dig deep

Really deep

Deeper still

To the farthest reach of memory

But the reach of mine falls short of the day we met

The moment you first loved me, or I, you

The day I sprouted my first tooth

The second I tried that tooth on your tender nipple

How you kept from screaming so you wouldn’t scare me

My first fever

My first fall

My first jump

Memories I do not have the pleasure of having

Yet thinking of them brings sniffles to my nose

Sniffles hinged on a feeling that transverses space;

A feeling that reaches through time and holds my beating heart in its palm;

A feeling that like a storm, drenches me in awe of you Mama;

Awe of the memories I do not have

The ones I do have

The sweet ones

The difficult ones

The ones I stumble upon like money in a long forgotten shirt

The ones that come to me like a random flower floating in the wind

The ones that pry a smile from my bleeding heart;

The heart that bleeds this paltry tribute –

Tribute, I call it, but really it is nothing –

Nothing could ever come close;

Except perhaps my daily struggle

To be half the woman, half the mother

You are.